Using computer simulations to model the separation of circulating tumour cells from blood cells as an early diagnostic tool for cancer


Circulating tumour cells are a known biomarker of cancer and can be found in the blood from Stage 1 onwards. Successful identification of circulating tumour cells can be used to facilitate early diagnosis of cancer and therefore improve survival rates. However, circulating tumour cells are very rare (~10 cells per ml blood) and therefore identifying these cells is difficult.

Inertial microfluidic devices have shown promise in separating circulating tumour cells from blood. However, we do not fully understand the physics involved, limiting its application in clinical practice. As such, there is significant scope for device optimization. Furthermore, the mechanical and geometric properties of circulating tumour cells vary by cancer type meaning a range of device designs are required.


This PhD project will use numerical modelling (in-house fluid-structure interaction code), in collaboration with experimentalists at University of Illinois, Chicago (Prof Papautsky and Dr Zhou) to further our understanding of the physics involved in cell separation through inertial microfluidic devices.

Two key outputs from this PhD project are:

  • Code development to add capabilities – circulating tumour cell model and multi-phase flows
  • Uncover how mechanical and geometric properties of cells affect separation performance.

Depending on the interests of the applicant, the project could be mainly focused on code and model development, translational application, or a combination of the two.

There will be opportunities for travel to visit experimental collaborators as well as attending relevant national and international conferences. The student will also benefit from a vibrant community of PhD students, postdoctoral research associates and academics working in various aspects of soft matter and biophysics in Edinburgh.

Please note that this advert will close as soon as a suitable candidate is found.

Further Information: 

The University of Edinburgh is committed to equality of opportunity for all its staff and students, and promotes a culture of inclusivity. Please see details here:

Closing Date: 

Thursday, July 3, 2025

Principal Supervisor: 

Assistant Supervisor: 


Minimum entry qualification - an Honours degree at 2:1 or above (or International equivalent) in a relevant science or engineering discipline, possibly supported by an MSc Degree.

Ideal candidates will have a good degree in Engineering, Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science or any related subject. They will be interested in code development (some experience with C++ and python desirable), fluid dynamics and interdisciplinary research, in particular translating engineering to medical environments.

Further information on English language requirements for EU/Overseas applicants.


Tuition fees + stipend are available for Home/EU and International students

Applications are also welcomed from self-funded students, or students who are applying for scholarships from the University of Edinburgh or elsewhere

Further information and other funding options.

Informal Enquiries: 

Dr Benjamin Owen: